Can food be tastier because it has a better name?
We are all probably familiar with the Chilean sea-bass. We see it on the menus at restaurants. And it's a favourite of both chefs and customers. Just look at that piece of fish.
But have you actually seen what a whole "Chilean Sea-Bass" actually looks like? Well, take a look.
Gorgeous isn't it? Definitely whets your appetite, no?
The Chilean Sea Bass is not a bass. And most of what we consume isn't even from Chile. Its original name is the Patagonian Toothfish - which is about as bad a name as it gets for fish to be sold at high-end restaurants. An unappetising appearance matched only by an unappetising name. The Patagonian Toothfish enjoyed a blissful existence in its favoured environment of deep and cold waters, unfavoured by the general consumer.
This was until 1977, when an American fish wholesaler, Lee Lantz, tried the Toothfish in a port in Chile. He loved the buttery soft flesh of the fish, the lack of a fishy smell, and that it could be prepared in a variety of ways.
Lantz immediately understood why the fish was a favoruite of some of the local fishermen, but also why it was a fish that hasn't and would never sell why. People could never get past its name and appearance.
But what if we could change how people thought about and saw the fish? What if he, unlike other fishes, he could avoid presenting the entire fish, just its premium, succulent flesh. And what if he could change the Toothfish's name to a more elegant-sounding "Chilean Seabass"?
And it worked. For a fish that was barely consumed for most of its existence, consumption would eventually balloon by 40 times by the early-to-mid 1990s. In fact, so much Toothfish (ok sorry, Chilean Seabass) was consumed that it was eventually over-fished, leading to a forced drop in consumption by the mid 2000s.
There is another example that we will be familiar with.
This fish was originally known as a pilchard, caught off the Cornish coast in England. For many centuries, it sold very well in Europe, because just salting it allowed it to be preserved for a long time, and the taste doesn't change that much even after it's been kept for a long time (It's not great to begin with though).
However, we discovered cooling systems - refrigerators and freezers. And suddenly the demand for the pilchard dropped drastically. People could find better alternatives besides a heavily salted fish, which they could also keep in their fridge.
Enter Nick Howell from Pilchard Works fish supplies. He noticed what you probably notice - the pilchard resembled another fish that was popular around the Mediterranean - the sardine. So Howell renamed the pilchard the Cornish Sardine. Soon he convinced supermarket to buy his "sardines", and eventually even got the EU to award the Cornish Sardine a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) status, securing its name and its future.
These 2 examples barely scratch the surface of how context shapes the way we think. The same chocolate tastes sweeter if it comes in a round shape as compared to a cube. The same wine tastes better if it comes in a heavier glass. Seafood tastes better if you can see the sea. The shape, the name, the colour of the food, the music that's playing while you're eating, the plate or cutlery that is used all play a big role in changing our perception of whether something is tasty or not.
All value is perceived value. Which is why marketing not only exists, but is necessary, though sometimes too successful.
The actual value of someone/something tends to be very hard to define. Sometimes, we are frustrated because people misjudge actual values, and it seems impossible to correct this misjudgment no matter how hard or how precisely we try to present or clarify. Moreover, most of the time, actual value can't be changed.
But instead of obsessing over how to accurately assess actual value, we can change how people view something/someone by changing perceived value. When something is presented in a different way, with a different comparison, carrying a different story, or presented by someone else, the perceived value changes, even if actual value remains constant.
For more examples, check out these pages:
- "Did you know that for most of history, Germans refused to eat potatoes?"